So today marks the first part of my pieces related to censorship in RPGs. As I mentioned in my introduction post, and will probably mention again repeatedly, I will be using as many older RPGs as examples as possible to illustrate examples, and points I am trying to get across. In some cases, I will also mention newer RPG titles if and when needed to illustrate current trends in the many forms of censorship. Since this blog focuses on RPGs, I will not be mentioning other genres if I can avoid it.
Read more after the break!
For as long as religion has existed, there’s been a debate on its impact in the media, and how much should be removed. Whether a religious organization finds something offensive in a piece of media, or if some atheist wants a nativity scene removed from a non-religious building at Christmas time, some entity wants religious censorship. This censorship has also existed in the video game industry for as long as I can remember.
Some notable examples of this include the removal religious words in the Final Fantasy series. In Final Fantasy IV (II in the initial western release) Area names were changed to remove religious content. The Temple of Prayers was renamed to the Temple of Wishes for one, and the Holy spell was renamed to white.
Final Fantasy VI (III) had also changed the name of their Holy spell to Pearl, but I find it interesting that Kefka was still considered a god by the second half of the game, and even had his own cult, referred to as the Cult of Kefka.
Also, the Dragon Quest series initially treated their churches as houses of healing, and removed crosses from tombstones, shields, and the like.
Typically, a lot of religious censorship (and other forms of censorship even today), were courtesy of Nintendo. They were not the only company making these decisions though.
Sony and Konami’s western release of Suikoden was also a contender for religious censorship by changing two people tied to crucifixes to just being tied up to straight poles.
These examples show that religion was a big issue back in the 90s. I can remember all the talk about changing elementary school Christmas events to remove religious content and references. I also know that debates like these still go on to this day. So what does this have to do with censorship in games? I think that the biggest reason is the “Think of the children” mentality that comes up from the thought of religious censorship.
Some quick background here, I am not a religious person. I didn’t spend my Sundays at church, and my beliefs on God and existence are purely my own. That said, when I played these games as a kid, I wouldn’t have thought twice about a church being in an RPG, or if a tombstone had a cross on it. Knowing these facts now, It still doesn’t change my enjoyment of these games. I also think that they would have been fine back then in their original form. Religious images should be present in all forms of media for one simple reason: We have eyes and go outside from time to time. In my travels, I would see churches, crosses, references to the words “prayer” and “holy” and it did not change how I lived my life. Religion can exist anywhere I can still enjoy myself with that in mind.
Case in point, let’s talk about the most controversial game in those days with regards to a lack of religious censorship: Xenogears.
Probably the first game I played growing up to have more religious imagery than anything else I had played at that point. There was some rather large debate and controversy over the heavy Christian influence in the story. That said, from a story perspective, it’s quite the in depth and enjoyable game. I praise the fact that this game had little to no censorship because if all traces of religion were removed from the game, Xenogears would have been a completely different story experience, and in my opinion, not that good.
There has been a serious lack of religious censorship happening in games today. I’m not saying that it isn’t still happening, but a lot more is sliding. Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest have learned their lessons and made adjustments to re-releases of their games, and religious icons are present in current games as well. Other RPGs have their own religious groups and/or faiths, and very few complaints are being made in this regard.
The bottom line for me here is this: I am indifferent to the changes to religious imagery if it has no impact to the overall story. I don’t necessarily agree with these types of censorship, since they dont blast “Join this religion” in your face. If it exists in the world, then it shouldn’t be removed from any form of media. If a game does use a religious focus in their story, then not a single thing should be removed from it, as it can and will take away from the creator’s vision, and therefore the overall experience for the player.